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August 18th, 2019

Op-Ed: Not a Pain in the Neck: It’s Thyroid Awareness Month

By Melissa Beth Ruiz

As we enter the coldest days of the year, everyone will be breaking out their winter gear to keep warm. From head to toe, New Hampshire residents will be bundled up with hats, boots, coats, and scarves to protect their necks from the harsh winter air.

During this especially cold month, it could take more than a fashionable wrap to protect a considerable percentage of necks, specifically the butterfly-shaped gland found inside, vital for controlling the way the rest of the body uses energy. 

January is national Thyroid Awareness Month, a campaign supported by the ATA to raise awareness of and to educate patients about the many different thyroid disorders.

The American Thyroid Association raises funds to help continue their efforts to fund patient and public education efforts including informative brochures, summarized medical literature, endocrinologist referrals, monthly newsletters, support links, patient alliance community, and health and education forums.

Furthermore, the ATA also uses funds to support thyroid specialists and the development of resources that further the understanding of thyroid disorders and cancers including clinical practice guidelines, position statements, early cancer training, research and development grants, leadership and service awards, community for collaboration, continuing education programs, peer-review biomedical journals, up to date thyroid news and publications, and patient education.

It is estimated that 20 million Americans are living with some form of thyroid disease, says the American Thyroid Association, and up to 60 percent of those living with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.

If left undiagnosed, a thyroid condition can put patients at risk for other serious health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility, the ATA further states.

The causes of thyroid problems are largely unknown, and the symptoms vary widely depending on the specific thyroid disease or cancer. Regardless, the first step in identifying a potential thyroid problem is awareness.

There are quite a few different thyroid conditions, and their symptoms are varied. Generally, signs that may be indicative of a thyroid dysfunction include weight gain, weight loss, hyperactivity, neck swelling, increased resting heart rate, decreased resting heart rate, mood swings, insomnia, hair loss, abnormal hair growth, body temperature dysfunction, brittle nails, vision problems, and anemia. 

If someone should suspect that they may be affected by a thyroid disorder, a doctor will either order bloodwork, imaging, or biopsy depending on symptoms to determine if there is a thyroid condition present, and which one their patient is struggling with. From there, a physician and his or her patient will determine the best course of treatment.

Treatments for different thyroid conditions vary depending on the severity and specific condition, ranging from medication for conditions such as hyper and hypothyroidism, surgery and radiation for thyroid cancers, or no treatment whatsoever for small thyroid nodules.

There is currently no one way to definitively prevent the development of a thyroid disorder. However, measures can be taken to perhaps reduce the risk of developing them, or possibly helping to slow down or stop the progression of an existing thyroid disorder. 

Letting a doctor know of any and all family history of thyroid disorder can be helpful in taking precautions should any conditions develop. As with anything pertaining to health, early detection can help with successful treatment in a number of thyroid issues and disease.

Conducting a “Thyroid Neck Check” from home is one of the best ways to detect lumps, bumps, and swelling on the thyroid if they are close to the surface. Should any abnormality be detected during this test, the next step would be to schedule an appointment with a doctor for further testing. Steps on how to conduct this test at home are available at thyroidawareness.com/neck-check.

Studies have shown that the nutrient selenium can help to decrease symptoms in certain thyroid disorders. Discussing selenium supplementation with a doctor is a great measure to take in thyroid health should concern arise for developing a condition or for slowing the progression of an existing one. 

And of course regular visits to the doctor provide leaps and bounds in early detection and delayed progression. If there is any family history of thyroid issues, or if the development of one is suspected, a doctor will likely conduct fairly regular testing to be on top of the status of his or her patient’s thyroid health.

For more information and resources on thyroid awareness and health, or to donate to the American Thyroid Association’s efforts to raise awareness and development of resources, visit the American Thyroid Association website at www.thyroid.org.

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